Draw One, Play One, Lose Sanity: A 'Cthulhu Fluxx' Review

There's nothing quite like an Eldritch Abomination to help spice up a family friendly card game. Looney Labs, publisher of the million-seller "Fluxx" and its numerous spin-offs, is letting the Great Old Ones of H.P. Lovecraft's Mythos get in on the game, and they've got just the guy to help them.

Keith Baker, a Cthulhu-guru in his own right, showed his Mythos chops in designing "Cthulhu Gloom" and "The Doom That Came to Atlantic City." Now, Baker has been brought on to merge the worlds of Lovecraftian horror and Looney, well, loonieness.

Will "Cthulhu Fluxx" prove that there is a "Fluxx" for every audience, or will it simply drive you mad? Read on to find out.

Just the Facts:

Players: 2-6

Playing Time: 10-40 minutes

Age: 13 to adult

Publisher: Looney Labs

MSRP: $16.00

Release: August 17th, 2012

The Gameplay:

"Fluxx" is a game like no other. The playtime of 10-40 minutes above could be better thought of as anywhere form 3 turns to 30 turns. Victory can be hard to predict simply because the defining feature of "Fluxx" is that the rules are constantly changing. Each game starts with only a simple instruction for your turn: draw a card, play a card, and pass on to the next player. In fact, it's one of the few games where you should just toss players into the game without even trying to explain it.

There are only a few types of cards in "Fluxx," and they roughly fall into these few categories: cards you keep face-up on the table in front of you (Keepers, Creepers), cards that allow you to perform one-time actions (Actions, Surprises), and cards that alter the rules of the game (New Rules, Goals, Ungoals). The last category is where the meat of "Fluxx" is, as rules changes can be anything from drawing extra cards each turn, stealing from other players, defining how the game is won, or even some truly wacky rules twists.

For an example of that last type of new rule, you can look back on some previous version of "Fluxx." In "Monty Python Fluxx," players could draw extra cards by acting out a Python quote. In "Pirate Fluxx," players could do the same by talking like a pirate. In "Cthulhu Fluxx," a rule can reward players for naming their fears.

A winning combination of Keepers and a Goal in Cthulhu Fluxx

A more detailed explanation of "Fluxx" play can be found in last year's review of "Pirate Fluxx." There are no new types of "Cthulhu Fluxx" take the form of status effects such as "Madness" and "Nightmares," which will permanently attach themselves to a keeper. New Doom and Anti-Doom symbols appear on the Keepers and Creepers, serving to trigger numerous potential Ungoal cards should Doom significantly outnumber Anti-Doom.

That last part is important to note, as "Cthulhu Fluxx" has more ways for the game to beat the players than "Fluxx" has ever seen. This is a Cthulhu game, after all, and numerous Ungoal cards provide opportunities for the Great Old Ones to abruptly end the game without a winner (that is, unless you have a card that lets you win when the game ends without a winner. See how crazyFluxx rules twists can get?)

The Components:

  •  20 Keepers
  • 8 Creepers
  • 3 Surprises
  • 4 Ungoals
  • 18 Actions
  • 28 Goals
  • 17 New Rules
  • 2 Special Rules

"Cthulhu Fluxx" is purely a card game, so there's not much to discuss in the way of components. "Fluxx" cards always have a high production value, and their poker card feel makes them one of the few card decks that I can shuffle like a pro. As for storage, Fluxx games always come in a small cardboard box that can fit in your pocket, fitting for a quick casual game that you may want to take with you for spontaneous play. None of this has changed with "Cthulhu Fluxx."

Where "Cthulhu Fluxx" truly ups the ante is in artwork. Previous "Fluxx" artist Derek Ring returns, and the improvement is noticeable. Merging horror with silliness is a lot easier than it sounds, and Ring pulled it off by taking on a cartoon-ish style while still refusing to sacrifice detail. Keith Baker's influence in the design also gave Ring plenty of great source material, as Baker pulled Keeper and Creeper card ideas from every corner of the Lovecraft Mythos, both mainstream and obscure.

Final Thoughts:

"Fluxx" is a very particular type of game, one for players not looking to play a game in its traditional sense (a test of skill or series of interesting decisions), but rather for those players who want a lighthearted and unpredictable activity to help serve as a social lubricant at the game table. The big question here was whether that sort of experience would gel with the same crowd that enjoys Cthulhu-themed games.

The short answer is that it does. It seems that there is no theme for "Fluxx" that will fail, as the game has recently leaped from pirates to sci-fi to even The Wizard of Oz. Enjoying "Fluxx" is a state of mind, one that the most "hardcore" of gamers may sometimes have difficulty entering, but definitely one that has lasting mass appeal. Even with those who enjoy a side of tentacles and insanity with their gameplay.

Personally, I found "Cthulhu Fluxx" to be one of the best "Fluxx" games specifically because of its generous use of Ungoals. As I've said in prior "Fluxx" reviews, I've always loved "Martian Fluxx" for the elusive possibility of its single Ungoal coming to pass, but "Cthulhu Fluxx" makes the Ungoal a distinct possibility. Having the potential to end the game without a winner is a huge shake-up to gameplay, as it is often in a player's interest to strive towards it. After all, "Fluxx" is still a game, so you should play to win. But when anyone can win with a lucky card draw, it may be in your best interest to watch the whole game blow up.

Disclaimer: Publisher provided a complimentary review sample of this game